Do you enjoy mystery, Briticisms, and reruns of Gossip Girl? If so, you need to check out Sarah Alderson’s The Sound immediately. And even if those particular things aren’t selling points for you, you might be pleasantly surprised by this sleeper gem. I may have passed this book over had I not read Alderson’s Hunting Lila series; where she put a fantastic contemporary voice into a sci-fi/fantasty style of story. And in The Sound, Alderson is equally as successful taking on a moody, romantic mystery.
In order to really enjoy The Sound, you need to accept that the main character, Ren, has conveniently fallen into an unbelievably ideal summer job in a scenario that would probably never happen in reality. Ren is basically an average English teenager, but through some random connection somewhere, she gets a job nannying for a wealthy family in Nantucket – despite never having cared for children before. Ever. As an added bonus, her “nannying” basically amounts to driving the kids to and from daycare and spending the rest of her time doing whatever she wants. She’s basically getting paid to listen to music, read, and blog.
Ren quickly catches the attention of Jeremy, one of Nantucket’s wealthy summer visitors, and decides hanging out with Jeremy is the perfect way to get over her cheating ex-boyfriend in England. But after a chance encounter with Jesse, a local with a bad reputation, Ren begins to realize not everything in Nantucket is as it seems. As Ren spends more time with Jesse she begins peeling back the layers of a longstanding feud between Jesse and the wealthy summer kids. Behind all this, there is also a mystery related to a serial killer who has been murdering foreign nannies on the beach of Nantucket for the past two summers. This is understandably a bit of a concern for Ren, given how few foreign nannies there are for a serial murderer to choose from.
I think it’s important to note that, while the serial killer element is an integral part of the story, The Sound isn’t really a thriller. If you come in expecting an intense, suspenseful affair, you will probably be disappointed. Not that there aren’t a few tense, even terrifying, moments – but it’s secondary, borderline superfluous. I’m not going to say the serial killer storyline was unnecessary, as it definitely added some drama and essential plot twists…but the much more important aspect of the story regarding Jesse’s past really has very little to do with the serial killer plotline. That wasn’t an issue for me – I was probably more interested to read about Ren and Jesse than the serial killer anyway.
Where a lot of books could have gone really wrong with this Gossip Girl-meets-Clue concept by making it too melodramatic, too superficial, or too predictable, Alderson manages to succeed with it because she really taps into her characters and spends time on them. In fact, about a halfway through the book so much time is spent on setting up the characters and their relationships that you start to wonder when anything major is going to happen. But then once the action starts, it doesn’t let up.
My two largest hang-ups with The Sound were pretty nitpicky. First, there were so many generic wealthy teens to keep track of that I occasionally struggled to remember who was who. The most important characters, however, eventually became more clearly defined as the story progressed. Second, and this was an issue I also had with Hunting Lila, is that Alderson writes her American characters with British phrasing. I mean, Ren clearly spoke with a lot of British slang and mannerisms because she was actually British, and that was fine. But then it’s like Alderson can’t quite wrap her mind around casual American speech, so all her American characters still sound mildly British when they talk. It’s really not that big of a deal; I just tend to be very sensitive to dialogue and it takes me out of it a little bit when I notice a character speaking in an unrealistic way.
But while there a couple little things that nagged at me, my experience with The Sound was still fantastic overall, largely because I enjoyed Ren a lot – she was funny, self-aware, smart, and realistic. I didn’t always agree with her decisions and her twisted interpretation of her relationship with Jesse was kind of infuriating, but at the same time I could see teenage me doing exactly the same things she did, which made her sympathetic regardless of whether I agreed with her or not. And I loved that Ren was written as a fan of young adult fiction – she described Jesse to her BFF in England as a combination of a guy from The Vampire Diaries and Alex Fuentes from Perfect Chemistry – making her infinitely more relatable to readers. I also enjoyed the character development on Jesse, who could have easily been the standard bad boy with a heart of gold, but Alderson managed to dig a little deeper than that and give him some dimension.
What I enjoyed most about The Sound is a little hard to describe. It’s that intangible feeling of ambiance; like the book pulls you in to its world every time you open it and you feel a very specific vibe and mood coming through the whole story. It’s funny and contemporary, but it still feels a little decadent and creepy. And while it isn’t immediately a page-turner, once you hit the halfway point you will not want to put it down. I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Sound, but when I finished I was a little surprised how much I enjoyed it overall. If you’re looking for something a little different as a last hurrah on your summer reading list, The Sound is a fantastic option.